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Oh, the weather outside is frightful….but you’re stuck inside an office building collating papers all day while your boss and their family jets off to sunny beaches for the week. It can be depressing, especially when you look outside and see nothing but gray skies.

During the end of the year rush, a lot of employees will save their vacation time to use during the holiday season, and while people are out of the office on vacation, it becomes very important to try and stay motivated in an empty office building.

Here are some ways that you can stay motivated during the holiday season:

Clean your office

Take some time and go through your office area, closet, filing cabinet, desk tops, email inbox, whatever and make sure what items you need or which can be discarded. Cleaning is a great distraction from everyday boredom, so find some time for your office.

Schedule business meetings during slow times

You can invite potential or current clients to your office during the holiday season. The business meeting can be as formal or informal as you like, but make sure you stack the place with plenty of refreshments. You can serve finger foods or have a local restaurant cater the lunch. Whatever you do, do not spike the eggnog.

Planning for next year

A lot of businesses are given a yearly budget to spend before the year is up, and leftover funds cannot be rolled over into next year, so they are lost. If you act quickly you can build relationships with these companies and then hit them up for business as the end of the year comes, they will have excess cash that will not be around for the New Year, so why not spend it now?

Review your marketing or business expansion plan

Take a look at your goals and see which ones have been accomplished and find dates of completion for your other plans. If you have any unfinished goals, you can add them to the list for next year. The end of the year gets many people worried about next year, but this is your chance to be one step ahead.

Go to every networking or holiday event

When the holidays are in season, you can bet there will be holiday parties. But while others are busy socializing, you can be busy building relationships with people you meet at these events. Keep your eyes open because you never know when you’ll pick up a new client.

Offer close out deals

If you are a small business, discount prices and packages for existing clients, or even new clients, as a great way to form alliances with a strategic business. Deals allow you to reach that one tough client you’ve been trying to get and at this time of the year, a lot of bosses want to look good on the bottom line.

Switch it up and do something different every day

Have coffee from somewhere new or just add two sugars instead of one. No matter what it is, just try something new. Break up the monotony.

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Contrary to the occasional rant about them, cover letters never go out of style. In fact, they should be considered one of the most important elements of the job seeking process. Unlike the resume, a rather cut and dried dissertation on your experience and training, the cover letter is your chance to convey more than simple experience. Understanding the important areas that need to be covered in a cover letter and the importance of creating unique letters for specific positions will allow you to take advantage of the strengths of the cover letter.

Length Matters

First, recognize the importance of appropriate formatting.  Cover letters that are too long will quickly loose the interest of the reader while those that are too short will not convey the necessary information.  Instead, be cognizant of the length and format of each cover letter.  Each cover letter should be no less than three paragraphs long and no more than one page long.  Not only is this length considered correct, it will allow you to appropriately address important areas adequately.

It Isn’t Your Resume

It is a mistake to simply use the cover letter to restate the facts that appear on a resume. Instead, the cover letter should be used to build interest–telling a little more about yourself and what you bring to the reader. An effective way to build interest is by expounding on an accomplishment that can be found in your resume. Instead of simply restating the accomplishment, give the prospective employer more details – details that will build interest in you.

Be Specific

Many make the mistake of creating a generalized cover letter.  Addressing a cover letter to the HR Department, utilizing generic job names and including general examples is a patently bad idea. Instead, take the time and do some research.  Even if you are sending a resume and cover letter to be filed for a later position, it is critical that it be addressed to the specific person in charge of hiring for that position.  Each resume that is sent out should include a cover letter that is specific for a particular job offering.

What’s Next

When concluding your cover letter, be sure to include your next step. You may want to inform the reader that you will call to confirm receipt in a week or let them know you will call to ensure they have all the information they need. Including a follow up action is the best way to ensure that your resume will be flagged for follow-up by the reader.

Cover letters are a good idea almost any time you are submitting your resume for review. There are a few distinct cases when a cover letter is not required.

  1. When the potential employer requests no cover letter be sent.
  2. When working with a headhunter.
  3. When using resumes at a job fair.

It is important that each cover letter be written with a specific job in mind. Carefully read and review not only job postings, but also any information that is available regarding the company to which you are applying. Doing so will allow you to craft a more effective cover letter – one that is more likely to generate a call back. You can tweak your main cover letter for different positions. Be sure and save each version with a different title so you can easily pull it up when a similar job position opens up.

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Working from home is the goal of many people. I understand. I work from a home office as well. It is great when you don’t have to dig your vehicle out of a foot of snow to get to work in the morning, or sit in traffic for two hours on the way home. There are lots of cons as well, but that’s for another post. So, if working from home seems like the right choice for you and your family, what is the next step?

From stay-at-home moms looking to supplement the family income to entrepreneurs hoping for a chance at a better life , work from home opportunities often seem like the perfect solution. Finding a position that allows you to work from home is possible, if you know where to look and how to apply. Cutting through the scams is just the first step. As a job seeker looking for an opportunity to work from home, you must be web savvy, able to articulate your skills online and tenacious work ethic.

Finding the perfect online job means sorting through fraudulent offers and scams. Many of the most “promising” opportunities require you to invest money, sometimes several hundred dollars before gaining access to the details of the opportunity. In other cases, the opportunity, which ‘guarantee’s’ income in the thousands of dollars per month simply do not live up to the hype. The best way to avoid these types of false opportunities is to carefully search for opportunities. Instead of using keywords like ‘work from home’ use keywords and phrases like ‘telecommuting’ and ‘virtual.’ This will allow you to find real opportunities.

While many online opportunities request a real resume, most simply request you start the process by filling out a form. This presents a problem for many job seekers who are concerned with safety. Avoiding giving sensitive personal information should always be foremost in your mind. Never send information such as your social security number via online form. It is also a good idea to set up a separate email address for the purpose of online job seeking. In general, be leery of any opportunity that requests personal information early in the process.

For opportunities that request a resume, job seekers are encouraged to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal. Attaching portfolios or examples of your work is a great way to make your resume stand out. You’ll also want to add or attach a cover letter to briefly and professionally introduce yourself to the reader. No matter what the job is, highlighting organizational skills and self-motivation throughout your resume is critical as it sets you up as an ideal independent contractor.

In many cases the next step is a phone interview. Take this opportunity to highlight your personality, goals, ethics and belief system as they relate to working independently. Be sure to respond to all emails and phone calls promptly during the entire hiring process. Remember that once hired your primary contact with your employer will be via phone and email, so it’s critical to establish yourself as a prompt and courteous potential employee.

Working from home can be a viable career choice for many people, but only if they carefully select opportunities to avoid scams. Be prompt, professional and courteous in all your online dealings to increase the likelihood that you will land a plum at home job.

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When you spend a third of your day at work, it is easy to become close to those with whom you share close quarters. When this blossoms into a romantic relationship, things can go downhill quickly. Office romances are frowned upon in many workplaces, with good reason; when two people break up and have to see one another every day, the tension can be felt among those around them. People can take sides, resulting in a decline of employee morale. When one party is particularly bitter, even lawsuits can ensue. I’ve written about this before, but it always intrigues me… probably because my office is in my home and the only other living being I see is my dog, Abbie.

One of the biggest problems facing companies is the threat of third-party lawsuits that arise over an office romance. In most cases, these lawsuits are launched as a result of a third-party employee feeling that he or she was treated unfairly due to someone else being favored. So, if a manager decides to give one of two people a raise and the one who receives it happens to be his girlfriend or wife, this might trigger a lawsuit filing from the party who did not receive the raise.

You also may want to consider your work mates and how they will react to this, as well as how it will affect those you are friends with who know about the romance, and how they will be treated. While putting myself through college, I was a nail technician (formerly known as “a manicurist”). One of my clients was a high-powered exec for one of the leading medical suppliers. She got me a job at her company selling medical supplies. She was also sleeping with the president of the company, who was married. At first, knowing her/him worked in my favor– it got me the job and well, it also got me a better sales position, selling some of the higher priced products versus the lower ones, so I made more commission. This wasn’t fair to the other reps and I soon realized that being associated with her meant not much work social life for me.

Another problem with an office romance is that if the romance does go sour, it can lead to false accusations or sexual harassment charges. Someone who is bitter about a failed relationship might retaliate by spreading rumors around the office or trying to make other coworkers take his or her side. Uh-oh. Not good. If you are on the receiving end of this type of treatment, it can lead to a damaged reputation or even the loss of your job. Also, if a woman decides to break up with one of her coworkers and he continues to pursue her despite her requests, it can lead to a sexual harassment claim.

All of these points are not to say that an office romance cannot work. For the most part, workplaces have rules in place for those who have established a romantic relationship. Many companies have addressed romantic relationships by implementing stricter rules, holding mandatory training sessions and even making involved employees sign a “love contract” in which they promise that their romance will not influence their job. Really?? In just about any scenario, though, try not to become involved with a boss or subordinate.  However, if this does happen, you might consider changing whom you and your significant other report to so that there will not be any accusations of favoritism.

Before pursuing an office romance, it is important to weigh the risks versus the benefits. It might seem like an appealing idea at first; after all, the two of you already have one thing in common. The added advantage of seeing each other throughout the day might lead you to believe that an office relationship is a good idea. However, only you can decide how much you are willing to put at stake for that relationship.  If it ends up poorly or your coworkers become jealous of the relationship, it can seriously affect your work environment to the point that one of you must quit or risk getting fired.

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Many job seekers erroneously believe that searching for a job during the holiday season is a waste of time. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, the holiday season, the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year, is often one of the best times to look for a new job.  This is true for several reasons.  First, there is often less competition because so many job seekers suspend their job search during these months.  Second, corporations with hiring budgets are often looking to ‘spend off’ their remaining budgets, making it easier to find an ideal position.  The key is utilizing unique opportunities available to job seekers during the holiday season and remaining positive.

For those looking for a job during the holiday’s, the following tips should be carefully reviewed and considered as part of their ‘survival guide’:

  1. Remain upbeat: Those that have been searching for a new position for an extended period of time often find their mood flagging during the holiday season.  Depression can quickly lead to wasted job seeking opportunities, so be sure to remain positive.  If needed, create a schedule for yourself, providing at least one job-seeking task each day.  Remember to treat your job search like it is a job in itself.
  2. Use holiday parties to network: You never know where the next opportunity will come from, and holiday parties offer the perfect opportunity to network and increase your visibility.  Whether attending family parties or industry events, put on your best face, be positive and network.  Holiday parties are the best opportunity for networking around.
  3. Holiday greetings: While the old ‘Merry Christmas’ cards are considered politically incorrect, Holiday Greeting cards offer the perfect opportunity to reconnect with industry contacts or potential employers.  Be sure to include your business card or contact information in the card to fully take advantage of this opportunity.
  4. Regularly review postings: Remember that as the year comes to a close, many businesses are struggling to fill open positions before their budget ‘resets.’  Keep checking classified ads and online listings and keep in close contact with your headhunter to ensure that you don’t miss any opportunities.
  5. Consider seasonal work: While seasonal work isn’t the ideal opportunity, especially for those looking for executive positions, sometimes taking a seasonal position can be beneficial.  The act of working again can do wonders for depression and if you are lucky enough to land a seasonal position in your field or industry, help keep your name visible. Oh, and might I add one very important thing: DISCOUNTS.

Don’t use the holiday season as an excuse to forgo your job seeking activities. Instead, try to remember that the months in-between Thanksgiving and the New Year can offer plum employment opportunities.  Use your survival guide to take advantage of the unique opportunities the holiday season can present.

Above all, remain committed to your job seeking activities. Failing to do so during the holidays can quickly ruin any momentum you currently have.

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**I am a member of the Career Collective, a group of resume writers and career coaches.  Each month, all members discuss a certain topic.  This month, we are talking about common job search misconceptions. Please follow our tweets on Twitter #careercollective.  You can also view the other member’s interesting posts at the end of the article.

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Getting ready for an interview is often the most stressful part of the hiring process. Many job seekers do not take the time to properly prepare for an interview. This can lead to more than a bad answer to an interview question. Not taking the time to prepare can make you late, nervous and less likely to land the job.

Preparing for an interview is as simple as following a few common sense guidelines:

1. Where are you going: Be sure to do a dry run to the interview location. Whenever possible make the dry run during the same time of day as the scheduled interview, or make sure your GPS is working the day before you program it–just in case. This will allow you to easily locate the office without worrying about traffic or detours.

2. What are you bringing: Carefully review any guidelines set forth by the hiring manager. Bring extra copies of your resume, your portfolio (if applicable), a list of references and anything else requested. Prepare these items in advance to prevent forgetting items. It is also a good idea to keep clean copies of your resume in your car in case of an emergency.

3. What are you wearing: Try on each item that you will be wearing to the interview. Insure the clothing fits properly, is clean, pressed and damage free. Don’t forget to check socks and shoes.

4. Grooming: If your hair, mustache or beard needs trimming take care of it several days before the interview. Leaving this to the last minute can cause delays.

5.  Phones: OFF! Consider yourself out of the running if your phone goes off during the interview… really out of it if your ring tone is “Baby Got Back”. Be smart and turn your phone off during your interview.

6. Questions: It is a mistake to assume that the only person asking question is the hiring manager. Instead, carefully craft a list of 2 to 5 questions to ask the interviewer. These questions should be thought provoking and demonstrate your knowledge of the company, its product or service and website.

7. Answers: Many interviews begin with the same questions: What do you hope to do? What are your goals? What is your greatest strength/weakness? Where do you see yourself in 5 years. Put some time and effort into thinking about these questions and prepare your answers in advance.

8. Eat, Sleep, Relax: Neglecting your health by failing to eat or sleep properly before your resume is a mistake. Try to put yourself in a relaxed state of mind. The more relaxed you are, the better the interview will go.

Other common sense suggestions include researching the hiring manager, contacting your references and bringing along a pen and paper for notes. Preparing for an interview doesn’t take much time, but it can have a big impact on your day.

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Read on for more great advice from Career Collective members. Don’t forget to follow our hashtag on Twitter #careercollective.

5 Misconceptions Entry-Level Job Seekers Make, @heatherhuhman

How “Interview Savvy” Are You?, @careersherpa

Employers Don’t “Care”, @ValueIntoWords

Misconceptions about Using Recruiters, @DebraWheatman

15 Myths and Misconceptions about Job-Hunting, @KatCareerGal

Are You Boring HR? @resumeservice

Job Search Misconceptions Put Right, @GayleHoward

Who Cares About What You Want in a Job? Only YOU!, @KCCareerCoach

How to get your resume read (sort of), @barbarasafani

The 4 secrets to an effective recruiter relationship, @LaurieBerenson

Job Interviews, Chronic Illness and 3 Big Ideas, @WorkWithIllness

The secret to effective job search, @Keppie_Careers

Superstars Need Not Apply, @WalterAkana

The Jobs Under the Mistletoe, @chandlee

8 Common Sense Interview Tips @erinkennedycprw

Still no job interview? @MartinBuckland @EliteResumes

Misconceptions about the Hiring Process: Your Online Identity is a Critical Part of Getting Hired, @expatcoachmegan

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